God's Voice Shapes up Our Hearts to See Jesus

Isaiah 40: 3-5 (Advent Two 2012)

“God’s Voice Shapes Up Our Hearts to See Jesus”

Pinewood derby car racing was an annual event in my Lutheran Pioneer group when I was a boy. My brothers and I would each get that kit: a pre-made block of wood, prepped with grooves for the wheel pins. We were supplied with four wheels, axel nails, and a suggested set of directions (which most boys my age tossed directly into the trash). Each of us was determined to make the most unique, smoothest riding, sleekest car, better than the one we made last year, better than the ones it would meet at the derby. Off we went to Dad’s work bench -- a vice, a few saws, some sand paper, spray paint and our imaginations -- mine always seemed to turn out like a painted block of wood with wheels on it.

Our hearts are in a constant need of spiritual reshaping. So were the people who lived during the birth of Christ. The Lord planned to send one last prophet before Jesus was be revealed as the promised Savior. John, a cousin of Jesus, was sent into the humble settings of the Judean wilderness to call people to turn from their sinful ways and to look to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. God’s voice was shaping up their hearts to see Jesus.

Isaiah foretold this ministry of John. Isaiah’s reading appears in Advent since John’s message echoes what Isaiah had said a thousand years before. “Make straight paths for the coming of the Lord!” Those Voices of God prepare us to meet Jesus in the manger. They also shape up our hearts up to meet him in the skies when he will return in his glory on the last day.

Are you ready to see Jesus in all his glory when he will appear to all mankind? Isaiah and John are the voices God used to shape us up to do that very thing. You are not surprised by these familiar voices. Their colorful words paint a clear picture: prepare the way of the Lord -- make straight a highway -- every valley raised up -- every mountain made low -- the rough ground shall become level ... the rugged places a plain.€ They are familiar words, but they are difficult for our sinful hearts to hear. Peter asks What kind of people ought you to be?” We turn away and know that his answer reveals perfection that we cannot fulfill. We know the straightening up that needs to take place in our hearts.

We set out each morning: children of God; blocks of spiritual wood; spiritual tools in hand, and the best of intentions! Today is the day! This is the day I am going to chop off the unwanted short temper. Today is the day I am going to smooth out the rough areas of my heart where my priorities still push God to the side. Today is the day I am going to sand off my stingy coveting. Today is the day I am going to fill in the hurt and pain with the peace of Christ. This is the day that this old sinful block of wood gets into spiritual shape.

Reality sets in. I still am short-tempered with my spouse and coworkers. I still follow through on desires which exist only to please my sinful heart. The pain of cross-bearing becomes my very excuse to give into to sin. I have allowed the idols of my heart to be highways for sin, rather than a pathway for the Lord. It seems the more we try to shape up ourselves, the more we end up looking like an unfinished block of wood and a fresh coat of hypocritical spray paint!

The tools we need are the tools that Isaiah and John provide. The hammer of God smashes our conceit. The sharp edge of God’s Word surgically removes envy and ill tempers. The handy work of God’s voice shapes us up. The shovels of his truth fill in the emptiness of pain and guilt. God’s voice speaks “Comfort, comfort, my people, speak tenderly to [them], proclaim to her that her sins have been paid for” God places us on his workbench. He putties in our empty hearts with the peace of God which goes beyond understanding. He smoothes our rough edges of hate and hurt with news that his work has accomplished our salvation. He is patient with us, not wanting us to perish.

God’s Voice shapes up our hearts to see Jesus by pointing us to Jesus! “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.”

From Isaiah’s view, God’s Voice was revealing not only the time of John, but the coming of the Messiah, Savior. His listeners were being shaped to see the blood-line of Israel as a highway that leads to the birth of Christ. From John’s Judean wilderness, his Voice was pointing to The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was prepping his hearers to see the significance of Jesus of Nazareth - crucified on Calvary. From our view we see the value of both and are prepped for the return of our Risen, Glorious Lord Jesus who “is coming with the clouds; and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Rev. 1: 7).

Like a block of wood, a few nails, and some tools, we are all the workmanship of our Redeemer. He has neatly fashioned us as creatures in his world. His Voice speaks and it cuts away at the natural desires that exist in our hearts. As nails pierced him to the wood of the cross, we too have been crucified to sin and the ways of the world. His blood is not a thin spray paint over a few sins. It is a deep cleansing and finish coat, covering the multitude of all our guilt. Now, new creations that we are, God continues to fashion us with his tools of mercy.

Isaiah and John give us the tools of God to shape up our hearts meet Christ when his returns. In view of his mercy we have been empowered to live as Peter says: “holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” John did not hesitate to lay down specifics: the man with two jackets should be generous and share with those who had none; the tax collectors should stop their thievery and pay back what they stole; the soldiers should put a stop to their bullying and extortion (John3: 10-14).

Each is a new day to be shaped by the Voice of God. He will smooth out our temperaments and make paths for peaceful things to think and say. He will knock down our evil thoughts and replace them with nobler things to think and do. He will file down our stinginess and replace it with joy and generosity. He will comfort our troubled hearts with the news that our sins are erased from his memory on the cross. He will tend to our grief of loss with news of the Risen and Powerful Jesus who destroyed death and its power. He will present us to his Father, not a misshapen block of wood with a bad paint job, but “as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or having any blemish” (Ephesians 5: 27). God’s Voice shapes us up to see Jesus by pointing us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. With ready hearts and with his Church we sing:

Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child,

Prepare a bed soft undefiled

Within my heart made clean and new

A quiet chamber kept for you. (CW 38: 13) Amen

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, Loved to Write the Gospel of Jesus

John 21: 20-25 (The Minor Festival of St. John the Evangelist)

“The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, Loved to Write the Gospel of Jesus”

           Marking the importance of those who have gone before us is good thing. God’s Word encourages us many placed to take note of the believers who have gone before us: to learn from their sins and mistakes, to learn about their lives with Jesus, to learn from the wisdom God gave them to hand down to us, to see how the church in its past has shaped our experience as the church of today. Today we are paying special attention to the writings of John the Evangelist, of whom it is said in his own writings: the disciple who Jesus loved.

Our Gospel lesson today brings us to the fish breakfast which the Risen Lord had prepared for his followers. Shortly after the meal, Jesus held a private conversation with Peter – the one where Jesus renewed his love for Peter saying: “feed my sheep.” John had followed behind and was privileged to listen in.

Allow a few thumbnail sketches of this disciple whom Jesus loved: He was one who was privileged to interrupt such private sessions; he was the closest to Jesus at the last supper; he was allowed to live the longest; he was the one to whom Jesus entrusted his own mother during the crucifixion; he was one of the three he took with him to places others did not go; he was the one who witnessed much about our Savior; he testified to many things regarding our Savior; he wrote them down and confessed that he could have written even more if pages allowed the room.

However …“The disciple whom Jesus loved” … was a phrase of humility … not pride! John knew his sinful nature and his unworthiness to be a child of God and a brother of Jesus. He felt so unworthy that he chose not to identify himself by name in his writings. This was also the John who met Christ in his glorious state and “fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). John realized that as a sinful man he could not stand in his presence the same way he did when they walked on the beach as friends. John needed him as Savior.

When we take time to remember those who have gone before us, we realize that all of them were sinners like us. They grumbled and complained. They questioned and doubted things that Jesus said. They lacked in their understanding of the things of God. They let pride disrupt their friendships. John was no different. You may recall the time when he and his brother James went with their mother to Jesus asking to sit at his left and right in the kingdom. He abused a very special relationship and let it go to his head.

Still, Jesus loved John with an unconditional love. John loved to write the Gospel of Jesus, because he cherished the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus. Read the pages which the Spirit caused him to write and you will see the Savior who loved John. With every page he points us Jesus Christ who was to come into the world. John proclaims: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (1:34)

John had a gift and a love: writing. The Spirit of Jesus made excellent and generous use of that gift:

  • He mirrors Genesis One his opening verses John 1 “In the beginning was the Word.” He tells the Christmas story by revealing the mystery of God becoming flesh among us: “the Word became flesh.”
  • It was John who tells us Nicodemus who was the first to hear those simple words: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” John 3:16
  • John recorded many of the “I am” statements of Jesus: “I am the Bread of Life, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Resurrection and the Life, I am the Way to the Father, I am the True Vine.”
  • John wrote in great detail the events of Maundy Thursday-Good Friday – Easter. He is the ONE person who witnessed them all from start to finish - including the phrase “IT IS FINISHED!”
  • John wrote Three Epistles: one filled with key concepts of Christ-like love (we read from that letter today), and two filled with messages of truth for the living active church which Christ established.
  • Finally John wrote from his island of exile the beautiful portrait of Christ from the heavenly throne: the Book of Revelation. In this book he offered the words of Jesus to the churches of Asia Minor and takes us on a tour of the throne room of Christ. Can we begin to count the words of comfort and encouragements offered to God’s people through this wonderful portion of God’s inspired Word through John! John, the disciple who Jesus loved, loved to write the Gospel of Jesus!

Even the great heroes of faith, who became mentors and models for us, have had their moments of sin and weakness. Noah gets drunk and embarrassed his sons; Abraham lies about his wife twice to save his own neck; David commits adultery and murder; Peter’s sins are in a lengthy list; take your pick. The Holy Spirit chooses for us to know these heroes as sinners who needed Jesus to be their Savior.

And John … ? The disciple whom Jesus loved … I actually struggled a bit to find such nastiness. It may seem such a small thing that he and his brother dragged their mother into selfish pride and into dissention among the band of brothers. He may seem a bit more faithful on Good Friday as he takes a few steps further with Jesus than the others. Still he did eventually abandon Jesus to join the others in their doubts. There is a lesson the Spirit would have us learn from John. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, needed to be loved because of his sins. Even one of the most faithful, careful, evangelical men to know and write the Gospel, still “falls at the feet of Christ as though dead” because he joins us all in the fall into sin.

           Could it be said of you? “The disciple whom Jesus loved ...” Should it be said of any one of us? John pens the warning: “If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves.” We have not done anything to deserve any sort of love from him. Like the characters of the past, we fall into sin every day. Like John, there is no use in thinking that I am somehow “not as bad,” or “better than,” those we hear about and see around us. Like John, we, too, fall before him as though dead, confessing our guilt before him. Like John, even our best intentions, requests and goals are still covered with sinful pride and thoughts of abandoning the One who loves us.

           The disciple whom Jesus loved, loved to write the Gospel of Jesus. From him we know now the Jesus who loved John, and that he loves you also. John testifies to the One who came in flesh to die. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world! His fellowship with us is based on the truth and love which the Spirit caused John to write down for us.

Through John’s pen, we see the Word of God made flesh, “full of grace and truth”. Through John’s pen we hear Jesus say “whoever believes in me will not perish but have eternal life.” Through John’s pen we see Jesus call fisherman and tax collectors and spend time sinners like us. We see Jesus reveal his glory, changing water to wine, casting out demons, and raising a dead Lazarus from his four day grave. From John’s pen we hear our Savior’s instructions and prayers in the upper room. They are words of comfort regarding the believers who would be brought to faith through John’s testimony message.

Through John’s pen, we watch as Jesus is arrested, beaten, mocked, jailed, whipped, and murdered on a cross. John was there to see it and he testifies that it is true! Through John’s pen we witness the Risen Jesus appear to his friends on several occasions over 40 days. Through John’s pen we learn that this Jesus stood on the beach to reassure his friends that all is well and the kingdom is won. John was there. From John’s pen we learn to fall at Jesus feet and see the victorious Lamb at the throne room of heaven, where continues to gather his saints to his side. Thank the Lord, that he used his servant John to point us closer to Jesus, that it may truly be said of each one of “the disciples whom Jesus loves, love to proclaim the gospel of Jesus.” Amen.

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Paul's Secret Recipe for Thanksgiving

Philippians 4: 12-13 (Thanksgiving 2011)

“Paul’s Secret Recipe for Thanksgiving”

Do you have a specialty dish for thanksgiving? You know -- that one dish or desert that only you can make exactly the way you make it. Everyone asks for you to make it because it cannot be repeated. Perhaps you are not even sure what the big secret is, except that you know the whole process that can hardly be explained and repeated by anyone else. Most Thanksgiving tables have that unique addition which has become a family tradition.

Paul had learned a secret recipe for thanksgiving. But it had nothing to do with food; rather it everything to do with life as a child of God. He shared that secret recipe for life with the Philippians Christians. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Jesus Is Our Shepherd King

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 23-24 (Christ the King, 2011)

“Jesus is our Shepherd-King”

What makes a good king good? You may remember that the Lord warned Israel against having a king. He knew that earthly kings would tax their pocket books. He warned that earthly kings would take their sons to empirical wars. A scepter in the hands of a wicked king (and there were many), would selfishly seek only his own good. Many forsook the people and the Lord’s commands to satisfy their own folly. That pattern was only broken when “good” kings followed the Lord’s commands and sought the needs of the people that they served.

The main reason God warned Israel against having a king was that HE was their king and desired to be so. King David, in spite of his many sins was good king. He had a desire to serve God and to be faithful to his commands. He was also a picture, or type, of Christ for Israel. David was both a shepherd and a king. As David, but in complete perfection, Jesus is our Shepherd-King.

 

He Rescued His Straying Flock

Ezekiel mentions the “flock which had been scattered on a day of clouds and darkness --” In those days, kings and people together had run away from the light of the Temple to the darkness of idols and evil behavior. Those who were supposed to be shepherding ignored the flocks. Those who were supposed to be governing for the good of people were leading them to a worldly darkness.

On a day of clouds and darkness --” Spiritually, that is every day for people like us. God lights a lamp for us to see us his way; and we choose to run into the darkness anyway. As Isaiah had said “We all like sheep have gone astray, each one has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We go astray when God commands us to fear, love and trust in him above all things, and we choose to lean on our own understanding, trust our own instincts, and love our own selfish wants. We go astray when God commands us to take his name seriously while we willfully toss it into the word salad of our filthy language. We go astray when God commands and invites to his Word yet our laziness seeks to avoid it and our discontent chooses to spite it with our own thinking. What shepherd would desire to rescue such rebellious sheep like us! The Lord has every right to leave us in our own darkness and cast us away from his presence for eternity.

Not our Shepherd-King! The Shepherd-King “searches and looks after the sheep.” He seeks to “gather us from the countries -- and to have us lie down in good pastures.” The Shepherd puts his life in danger as he rescues the sheep from the mouth of the wolves and lions. The King puts his life in danger as he goes out to the battle field ahead of his armies to protect his people from the foe. In the same way, Jesus our Shepherd-King seeks us out, places his life in danger, and gathers his flock with his willing sacrifice. Christ Jesus chased into our darkness and rescued us from our own self-inflicted guilt. He destroyed the wolf, our wicked foe, by fighting that battle against evil for us. He laid his life on the line for his sheep when he sat in darkness on the cross. He dashed the darkness of death by taking his life back up again! Jesus our Shepherd-King, rather than casting us from his presence gathers us with his redeeming love and keeps us safely in his gracious pastures.

 

He Reigns With Justice

“I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.” Jesus had said “I did not come for the righteous but the unrighteous -- and it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.”

Our Shepherd-King reigns with justice. He will always keep his word and promises. He will not ever compromise his judgments. He will always be fair. Jesus does not despite a broken and contrite heart. He will always forgive the sins of those who trust in him for salvation and confess their sins before him.

He will not, however, put up with arrogance of those who put their trust in their own efforts to save themselves. Many will have the appearance of good on the outside. But God can and does read hearts. Our Shepherd-King will not have his redeeming efforts be mocked by those who wish to be saved by their own deeds. “I will shepherd my flock with justice.”

 

He Restores us With a Loving Voice

Be glad our Shepherd-King “does not treat us as our sins deserve”! (Psalm 103:10). As Jesus described the difference between the shepherd and the hired hand, “the sheep hear my voice and I know them (John 10). The Lord promised: “I will tend them in a good pasture -- they will feed in rich pastures.” “I the Lord have spoken.” And he speaks with tender voice to his people.

There are many voices out there calling us away from our Shepherd-King. Hired hands who ran away at the face of danger still seek to lead us off the safety of God’s mountain. The darkness calls us back daily. Temptations all too familiar speak appealing words. The wicked foe, the prowling lion, haunts us with guilt and the lure of attainable desires. Those are dangerous voices. They are not the voice of the Shepherd-King.

Our Shepherd-King knows the dangers that plague his flock -- the Church. He knows the enemies that surround his city the Church. He defeated them on the cross so that they would have no power over us. When we are lost in darkness he shows us the Lamp for our feet. When we are broken and bruised he heals our wounds. He will strengthen us when we are weak. He will not despise a broken and contrite heart. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all of our sins.”

The best way for a sheep to recognize his true shepherd is to stay close to him and hear his Voice often. He has provided safety for us in his Kingdom. He wants us to remain familiar with his Voice by feeding on that rich pasture of his Holy Word. Silly sheep like us don’t always know what is good and best for us. The sinfulness in our nature sheepishly shies from that Word because of what it says to our sinful nature.

I have noticed this concept with our dog. Every time I come home he is suspect of me. He barks a little, turns face down when I reach to pet him and remains guarded. Then he remembers who I am; that I feed him, I haven’t done anything harm him, I take him for walks, I allow him the safety of my home, and he is safe when lying at my feet. He warms up and responds to my voice. Although now it takes much less time, we have to go through that process every time I come through the door!

Our Shepherd-King knows what is best for us. He has never done anything to harm. He feeds us spiritually and physically. He provides us the safety of our home and His. He calls out to us with his Word. The deeper we grown in his Word -- his Voice -- the more we warm up to his tender care. Yes, he is a mighty King with justice and power. Yes we are tempted to be guarded in our approach. But when he hear his Voice often we learn that he is a tender Shepherd who does nothing but care for us his sheep with an unconditional love.

What makes a good king good? A Shepherd who cares more for his sheep than his own safety and A King who does what is right in the sight of God. Jesus is perfectly both. He loves us. He has gathered us to his heavenly fold -- a kingdom whose ruler is kind and loving. As each day he tends us like a Shepherd, we look forward to the day when Christ our King will bring us across the mote of death and into his palace of eternal grace in heaven. Amen.

God's Word Is Still Our Great Heritage

2 Timothy 3: 14 - 17 (Reformation 2011)

“God’s Word is Still our Great Heritage”

Solomon wrote: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun ... it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 9 - 10).

Solomon’s wisdom is not shared by all of society. Old products are re-introduced as new and improved. Technology becomes obsolete the minute we leave the store. The commercial greed of our day is constantly planting the seed that everything new must be better. The case is often made by presenting the past as void of value. We are easily discontent with what we already have because what is new must be better. Our sense of the past grows foggy and is dismissed as irrelevant. Think of the implications on Christianity:

  • If new is always better, why cherish hymns that are 500 years old?
  • If new is always better, why study the history of anything, let alone the Church?
  • If new is always better, why hold on to anything that smells of tradition - like liturgies and prayers?
  • If new is better, why hold dear to a Book that is 2000 years old?
  • If new is better, why give attention to a Man who walked the earth that long ago?

To the contrary, our God has been pleased to give us the One Thing needful. His everlasting truths will never be moved or shaken. The Scriptures need no refinement. The promises of God are divinely new every morning. The Lord has preserved - in an ever-changing world - the timeless and relative message of Christ Crucified for the sins of the world. Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). God’s Word is Still our great heritage and shall be ours forever. Paul encourages Timothy to “CONTINUE in what you have learned and become convinced.”

Through Life It Guides Our Way

Paul writes: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God’s Word equips us to live in this world according to the patterns of Christ Jesus.

  • When we sin, God’s Word rebukes and corrects us. Through his truth we become conscious of our sin.
  • When false teachings plague the Church, the Word rebukes and corrects sinners “with great patience and gentle instruction” (2 Timothy 4: 2).
  • When we feel the pain of guilt, God’s Word announces “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
  • When others confess the pain of guilt to us, we have the good news of God’s Word, which alone will lift them up: “He is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1-2).
  • When we are weak in faith and need strength for the tasks in our walk of faith, God’s Word thoroughly equips us for every good work. We are: “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Eph. 2:10).
  • When we ache over the crosses we carry, the Word speaks volumes of comfort, and provides the needed strength of Christ Jesus, who lifts us up beneath those crosses.
  • When we are confused over troubling circumstances and need his guiding hand: “God’s Word is Lamp to our feet and a Light for our path (Psalm 119: 105).

In Death it is Our Stay

Paul also shines Light for the end of our lives in this world: “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”We can conclude from Paul’s closing words that he felt he was nearing death. He said, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure” (4:6). From a dungeon, in chains, hidden from most of society, Paul was sure that he was dying. He was certain that he was dying in Christ; with the confidence of sins covered with the blood of Jesus; in the knowledge of Christ’s empty grave as the gate to eternal life.

That day will come for all of us. This truth has not changed: “the wages of sin is death.”On our own, none of deserve to stand before the righteous Judge in peace and confidence. We deserve but grief and shame. Who of us could count up enough good things in order to void out the evils in our life - past and present? Who of us could stand before the Omniscient God and hope that he ignores the lust, the greed, the hate, and hurt which has lingered hearts? That reality is most clear on our death beds. Nothing new under this sun will change that fact, or offer us a new solution to a timeless problem.

To what do we hold when dying? “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” His Word has been our heritage in life. It is also our comfort in the face of death. Jesus canceled our debts to God with his blood and righteousness. Jesus spoke eternal peace on the cross saying “It is Finished.” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25). God’s Word still says, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? His Word is our strength in time of death to sing: “I know that my Redeemer lives “-- what comfort this sweet sentence gives!”

Throughout All Generations.

Lord, grant while worlds endure we keep Its teachings pure throughout all generations.” Paul put it this way: “Continue in what you have learned and become convince of, for you know those from whom you have learned it.”In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God.”Timothy learned of Jesus from his mother Eunice, who had learned it from her mother Lois (1:3-7). There is wisdom when the Bible commands us to “remember your leaders who spoke the Word of God to you ... and to consider the outcome of their faith (Hebrews 13: 7).

Today we remember a rich heritage of generational leaders: Adam, Seth and Noah; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Lois, Eunice, and Timothy. The Scriptures repeat passing of the torch of the Gospel from one generation to the next. The torch was always in danger of being snuffed out: wars, false teachings, persecution in every land, not to mention the sinfulness of the men entrusted with the Word. But the Lord has always preserved his timeless, relevant message from one generation to the next.

In the dark ages of Europe, the Lord opened the Scriptures to Martin Luther and other reformers. The Holy Spirit gave them insight and faith as he had given to generations before. The Lord shined his Light on many paths, so that the torch of Christ’s Gospel was handed down from one generation to the next. Luther recognized that crowds of souls were hurting. He met men who set themselves above God and his Word. He saw the growing message that the old was outdated and the new must be ushered in. He saw a church that needed a better sense of the past rather than a shiny ball of something new.

Luther labored over his Bible, continuing in what he had learned and become convinced of. He prepared a translation of the Scriptures into the language of his hearers. He wrote books for families to teach God’s Word to in their homes (Small Catechism). Out of the reformation came a rich set of hymns, a fresh look at ancient songs and liturgies, and renewed sense of the past for the passing of the torch of Christ Crucified to the next generation.

How will you pass that torch to your children? “-- to your children’s children? Rekindle it by acquiring a love for the past. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23). Cherish our rich heritage and see the value of those things which have stood the test of time. Open your eyes to the new and determine what gifts from God might be used to pass a torch brightly lit. How?

  • Labor over a Book of the Bible which is difficult or unfamiliar for you. Learn of the same Christ with fresh eyes.
  • Seek out a character of the Bible who went through struggles similar to yours. See how the Lord dealt with them to learn how he deals with you.
  • Grown-ups, teach a child something about the church of your youth. Children, ask a grown-up to spend that kind time with you. Speak and learn of those from whom you have learned it. Remember their way of life and outcome of their faith.
  • Trade in the self-help paperbacks for Lutheran books; start with your Catechisms; review as a family each day.
  • Commit to memory a Lutheran hymn, or two, older than 400 years. Then sing to the Lord a new song!
  • Acquire of love for the Church’s past to gain wisdom for planning the spread of the Gospel in the future.
  • Go to the cross of Christ daily as a beggar and leave daily with the gospel which is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Sin is universal, so God’s rebuke and correction is always relevant. Grace is universal, so Christ’s forgiveness is always relevant. The bearing of the cross is a reality for all who confess his name, so comfort and strength from God’s timeless message are always relevant. Death is universal and therefore the message of Christ’s Resurrection and the promise of eternal life in Heaven are always relevant.

Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of “-- for the Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

God’s word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever “--

The Way of the Cross Is the Only Way

Mark 8: 27 – 35 (Pentecost 18)

“The Way of the Cross is the Only Way”

 Jesus said: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Those were Jesus’ words to Peter, James and John as they took their first few steps in Gethsemane. We know that he prayed earnestly to have the cup of suffering removed. If there was any other way to save the world … but God had determined that there was not. With a resolute heart, with love for you, and in obedience to his Father he prays, “Not what I will, but what you will.” It was the only way to save us sinners from our path to eternal destruction.

1. Christ Lost his Life to Save Yours

We don’t like to lose our lives. We like to hang on to the things of this life. We the pressure comes to do follow our sinful desires, we buckle like Peter and deny Jesus rather than deny ourselves a few moments away from his truth, away from following the cross, away from godliness. Satan is very good at what he does, and temptation is a powerful force. For the many times daily we have fallen into its evil traps we deserve to be cast away from God’s presence forever.

Jesus knew that the only way back to him was to lose his life for us. He knew that before the prayers in Gethsemane. He knew it all along. As they were approaching the time of the Transfiguration Jesus knew to prepare them for the coming events: “… the Son of man must suffer many things …” Gethsemane; the loss of friends; betrayal by a friend; rejection and hatred; false testimonies and curses; the weak faith of friends who ran when he needed them most; the stupidity of Peter – his well intended, yet ignorant loyalty; a slap in the face; a Romanized back lashing; the unexplainable grief on his mother’s face; the shame of those who once listened to him; cold steel through his already wounded body; worst of all: the turning of his Father’s face away from the sight of the cross; and finally a burial in a dark cave. Why? What has my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? (CW 110 vs 4).

  • It can only be two things: sin and love; our guilt and God’s grace. The cross is the only place where those two things can be resolved.
  • If you and I had never sinned the cross would never have been necessary. If God had not loved us so much Jesus would never have faced the cross.
  • If the sinful attitudes of my selfish heart never existed, God’s wrath would not have to be appeased. If God had not been so merciful, Christ would not have to be so willing to obey His Father’s command.

 No, the cross was the only way to save us. Because of God’s great love for us we are not consumed by what our sin has caused. Christ became a life-loser so that we would have life with him. The cross was the only way to take away our sin and save us for eternity.

2. Christ Calls you to Lose this Life to Gain the Next.

After a rebuke of Satan, manifested in Peter’s misguided loud mouth, Jesus says that his cross and our cross are related. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus warned his friends, “pray that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22: 40). Luke tells us that they too, “were exhausted from sorrow” (Luke 22: 45). The cross is not just the bearing of the same sickness; pain and death that the whole world faces. Those sufferings are true because of sin. The Christian cross is true “for the sake of Christ and the gospel.”

Understanding his cross helps us understand what it means to follow him. How many Judas friends do you have? How many loud mouthed Peter’s do you know? How often have we faced rejection at the hands of wicked men? The cross is there in our lives, too. It is for the sake of the gospel that our humanity is denied. It is for the sake of Jesus that our selfishness is put aside. In His patience and love for Judas we find strength to extend patience and love. In his strength to rebuke Peter, we find strength to rebuke, correct and train with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4: 1-3).

The cross is a narrow way. It is a righteous path. Christ Jesus has united us to him.Â

  • The same evil that would spit in his face will spit in your face, too.
  • The same evil that would slash the back of God’s Holy Son would not flinch to shut up your Jesus Talk and wipe away your Christ-like attitude.
  • The same temptation to find a different way, or to give up, is the temptation you and I face.
  • “Father, if there is any other way to be Christian without the cross …” You know that our heavenly Father says “No, there is no other way.”Â

But he does also say; “My Grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

  • After all, Jesus says, what is the price of souls and eternity?
  • What good is it to rescue myself from the temporary pain of evil men only to end up apart from God in hell?
  • What good is it to deny the God who has the power to wipe me from his memory?Â

There is an eternal truth in the gospel lesson today. Jesus gave a bright glimpse of it in his prediction. Surely the Son of Man must suffer many things. But he also plainly explained that he will “after three days rise again.” He fought death and won. He walked the path of the cross and has gone straight to heaven. Think about that.

Since Christ has so intimately united us to himself - hidden our lives with himself in God (Colossians 3:3) – he places us arm and arm with him on the path of that cross. Since we are going where he has gone we will face oppositions that he faced. Persecution may not always be a gun to our face. It is often more subtle than that: peer pressure, disrespect the Word, and those who strive to live by it, loss of the things in this life for the sake of finding eternal treasures. But the path does not end in death. It ends in life. Since we have been united with him in his death we will also be united with him in his life. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Now if we are [God’s] children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we might also share in his glory” (Romans 8: 17).

And that is what we are – God’s children walking where God’s Son walked. With the same confidence we know there will be suffering. But we suffer it gladly knowing that the glory is yet to come. All the more reason for us to correct what is not according to God’s will. We strive to be patient with each other, and to show love through forgiveness. In constant view of his Cross where he showed us mercy we bear our own crosses with better understanding. The cross is the only Way to heaven. Amen.

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Showing Love to Those Who Sin

Matthew 18: 15 - 20 (Pentecost 16 - October 2, 2011)

“Showing Love to those Who Sin”

I’m not my brother’s keeper. Since the first murder human beings have loved that phrase to exit from the responsibility Jesus gives to us today: “If your brother sins against you –” Our Savior speaks these words in the expectation that it will happen even among his children. He could have said “when your brother sins against you.” Jesus teaches us on how to handle the sins of each other in a loving truthful manner. These guides are not meant to be a snappy check list. Rather, our Savior is laying out careful guidelines for dealing with the sins of each other in a Christ-like way.

1. Deal with Sin in Person.

Jesus says, “go and show him his fault just between the two of you.” As sinners we often keep much to ourselves. Our own sins freeze us from saying anything about those we have noticed in the bonds of close friendships. It takes a true friend to expose sin in a loving way. Exposing sin to the sinner does not mean shouting it from the roof tops. It must begin in a private conversation. It may take several meaningful talks. It will always require a humble attitude that always takes the plank out of our own eyes so that we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s (Matthew 7:5).

It is hard to do. But it is the right thing to do. Our sinful nature will find many sinful ways to deal with sins that are noticed in others: blab, vent, gossip, let things fester, harbor. Many times we are afraid because our own sins have us feeling unworthy to speak with others about their sins. But it is the right thing to do: speak with the one who needs our love the most - the one who is trapped in sin.

How much more do we need to develop that skill in the face of our electronic social networks! Zinging off emails at every whim is not what our Savior has in mind. Texting leaves much to be desired. Posting vengeance on face books and twitters is fuel to the fire. “GO and Show -- between the two of you.” Imagine what can be accomplished among human beings if we recaptured the art of one on one conversation - face to face - where voice inflection can be traced and body language speaks more volumes than five page email.

Jesus makes a promise. “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” A soul has been won from unbelief to faith. Leading others to see their sins has a loving goal - the goal of gaining them as an eternal friend in Christ. Those friendships are worth gaining. They will stand the test of time. They will hold more firmly the next battle with temptation. The true victory is that sinful actions are forgiven and forgotten. They will never be mentioned again, by you or your friend, to each other or anyone else. What a blessed joy it is to point a troubled conscience to the cross of our Savior and freely give them a gracious God who forgives all sins! What better message to the devil when believers forgive and forget sin under the Cross of Christ!

2. Seek Trustworthy Friends, if Needed, to Help

Jesus reminds us that it won’t always end that way. “If he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “˜every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ “ Jesus teaches a Biblical guide from the time of Moses. (Deuteronomy 17:6). We despising of God’s Word settles in, the troubling matters of sin among God’s children should not be judged only by “his word against mine.”

In a manner that desires the spiritual best of your friend, there should be some consideration for who these witnesses will be. You are hoping to help your friend from spiritual trouble. You are hoping to keep the matter as quiet as possible. You are striving to keep his reputation intact. You are earning his trust. Choose friends whom you both trust. You trust them to share your concern for a soul. You trust them to keep their mouths shut. You trust them to be good listeners. You trust them to not be biased in their thinking. Trust that they have a clear understanding of the Bible as friends who genuinely want to lead someone to repentance and faith in Jesus. Many souls have been regained through the Christian work of two or three friendships. If the matter is settled, rejoice! The friendship is gained, forgiveness in Christ is clearly announced, and once again the joy of fellowship in Christ is deepened through the blood of Jesus.

3. Understand Church’s Love For the Truth

But our Savior knows that not every matter will be that easy. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Jesus is talking about someone who has become one-sided in his thinking. He has hardened his heart about sin. He sees things only his way. He has stopped hearing the Truth of God’s Word through your love. The heels are dug in. Repentance and forgiveness seem impossible.

Tell it to the church.” Jesus is referring to the kingdom of believers. The Holy Christian Church is that collective group of people who profess Christ Jesus as Savior. The Holy Spirit builds and strengthens that Church through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. In the early days of Christianity, the believers sought each other daily for guidance and encouragement. They recognized Peter and the other apostles as leaders in spiritual matters. Eventually, the preachers and evangelists in the mission stations represented the congregations in matters of doctrine and practice. Today, visible churches have continued that understanding. Dealing with false teachers and public offense is something we do together at the direction of pastors and the spiritual leaders. That is one of the many blessings having a fellowship of believers.

This whole matter of church discipline is delicate. It is often misread, or even abused by well meaning people. Exposing sin to an unrepentant sinner is difficult, but necessary. It requires love for souls. It requires a good understanding the Scriptures, especially in the area of carefully dividing between the Law and the Gospel. It requires a united body of believers in Christ working together foe the truth (2 John).

Sadly, situations do present themselves when the Church, at the leadership of the pastor, makes a public recognition of unbelief in an unrepentant person. Jesus uses the words “pagan” or “tax collector”, words which at the time would be associated with people who were publicly labeled as unbelievers. Paul offered this advice to pastor Titus: “avoid foolish controversies and arguments about the law, they are -- useless. Warn a divisive man once -- warn him a second time. After that have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:9-11).

Society will criticize and cry “Foul” saying that we should not judge. Better to face the wrongful accusations of the world, than to let sin and foolish controversy dangerously affect the flock of sheep. Better to face ridicule for exposing sin, than to ignore it or pretend that it is not important. Better to suffer for doing good than to fail to show Christ-like love to souls by exposing their sin and unbelief. A Christian congregation that ignores sin will also lose the clarity of Christ’s sacrificial love for sin, in short, lose the Gospel.

4. Jesus Blesses Faithfulness to his Truth

Jesus attaches this cover phrase on his lesson today: "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

Our Savior promises to bless us with his grace and truth. He has commissioned us to be concerned for the souls of each other. He staked his life on us. He validated his promise by overcoming the deadly grave in our place. By his grace we are brothers and sisters in Jesus. He blesses faithfulness to truth. He is pleased to help those who demonstrate his mercy to one another. He will bless those who love sinners, the way he loved sinners like us.

Mercy is a key word today. Mercy is that active compassion of God for people in need. He looked down on his fallen world and saw only sinners in eternal trouble. He commands us to reflect that mercy to each other. Don’t ignore sin. It will fester and harm and destroy. Don’t be surprised as you are truly showing mercy that things will get messy and difficult. Christ came to our filth to restore us to his holiness. This business of dealing with sin is messy for us too. It is not always easy. It is frightening to admit that forgiveness is even harder than it was to point the sin out in the first place. We love him who first loved us. We forgive as we have been forgiven. We demonstrate that in our love for people whom God has placed in our lives.

You really are your brother’s keeper. He will indeed bless us as we call each other away from sin and lead each other to the cross where love covers a multitude of sins (James 5:20; 1 Peter 4:8). Amen.

Consume the Word of the Lord

Jeremiah 15: 15-21 (Pentecost 15 - September 25, 2011)

"Consume the Word of the Lord"

His fishing crew caught their limit before breakfast. Before the catch of the day could be even cleaned, his fishing Guide had already prepared fish breakfast on beachside coals. The crew sat down to eat. After the meal, the Guide asked the fisherman: "Simon, son of John, do you truly love more than these?" Simon (Peter) replied: "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." That conversation repeated. By the third round Peter insisted: "Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you." With each exchange Jesus chimed the theme of Christian ministry: "Feed my lambs. . . Take care of my sheep . . .  Feed my sheep." The risen Lord Jesus had restored the relationship with his student and friend. Peter's troubled conscience over his denial a few weeks ago was eased by the voice of our forgiving Shepherd. The commission to speak the Gospel to souls was highlighted: FEED my lambs (John 21).

Generations before, the LORD spoke to another servant: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you . . . Now I have put my words in your mouth ... to uproot and tear down . . . to build and to plant: (Jeremiah 1). Jeremiah was fed the Word in order to be one who would feed others. Jeremiah ate and was satisfied: "your words came and I ate them . .   they were my joy and my heart's delight!"

This is how the Lord God intends to build his kingdom: by feeding them his truths. From his heart to the pens of his writers; from his pages to the ears and conscience of mankind, the Lord provides living bread for souls. He places teachers and learners at the same table of his Word. He invites us - he commands us - to consume his Words, with heads and hearts, asking the Spirit to plant them deep into our souls. When we dine on the Word of the Lord, we taste that he knows us deeply and loves us unconditionally.

 

Taste How Much He Knows You

"You understand, O Lord . . ." That is a mouthful already. You know me, Lord! Jeremiah's confessional prayer reminds us of David in the Psalms: "O Lord you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise . . . before a word is on my tongue you know it completely." (Psalm 139: 1-4).

The Lord knew everything about Jeremiah. He designed his mission. He knew about his enemies. He knew about his doubts. He knew about his conviction to remain faithful. He knew about his past. He knew about his future. He knew that his words must first be impressed on Jeremiah's heart. Filled with them he spoke to mobs of stiffened necks - whether they listened or not (Ezekiel 4:10).

Jeremiah professed that he did not join in with the disobedience that was all around him: "I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them." Jeremiah was certainly not claiming to be without sin. He was simply stating that the LORD had kept his feet from slipping into the wickedness that surrounded him. He had been strengthened to resist dining on the tables of idolatry - dining rooms of filthy, crude behavior which promised only temporal pleasures. He did not sit in the seat of mockers for his delight was in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1).

Our first bites of the Word are not so tasty, are they? It tastes awful to our sinful hearts to know that he knows "me" so well. He knows my doubting, my weakness of heart; my lazy omissions of good things, the moments I have left the cross in order to eat at the idolatrous tables of this world; my darkest secrets (David called them hidden faults -Psalm 19). Invitations to those tables of idolatry surround us. Billboards, TV, peers and high speed social networks ring dinner bells to eat the fruit of our sinful lusts, laziness, and greed. Could we so readily say with Jeremiah "I never went there. . .?"

Our sinful heart looks at the Word like a five-year-old looks at Brussels sprouts. Ugh! Spend time consuming the Word of the Lord, anyway. Acquire a taste for repentance and an appreciation for bitter truths. Each phrase points out how much God knows about us. It does us well to have a fork full of the knowledge that we deserve nothing but grief and shame and eternal damnation.

The Lord Jesus who saw Nathaniel under the fig tree, who noticed Peter in the court yard as the rooster crowed, and his denial realized, knows you. He is also the Lord Jesus who stood on the beach, risen from death, opened arms, host for breakfast, who served forgiveness for the main course! He knows you; understands you; everything about you.

"You understand, Lord." What a banquet of food for thought! As we continue to take more bites we consume knowledge of a God who knows all things. We taste and see that the Lord is good and that he heals disease and that he forgives all sins. Keep chewing on that Word and we taste of the God who knows my needs and well provides them. We taste of the Heavenly Father who listens to my jumbled up prayers through the intercession of the Holy Spirit with groans that words cannot express (Romans 8). He knows when we have taken a stand against the enemies of his Church. He blesses faithfulness to his heavenly Food when he knows that he has caused in us a resistance to temptation. He uses that Food to build us up in confidence.

The depth of how much he knows us is so personally connected with how much he loves us.

 

Taste How Much He Loves You

Jeremiah knew that. The LORD said, "If you repent, I will restore you." The LORD was no deceptive river bed or dried up spring. He promised restoration. He promised to make Jeremiah fortified wall in the face of obstinate crowds. He promised to save him from the hands of the wicked. He promised to purchase Jeremiah from the grasp of the cruel. And the Lord came through. Jeremiah's life was spared several times over. The Word of the Lord fed those who would listen. Those whose hope was in the Lord (Isaiah 40:31) were blessed through discipline and restoration. Jeremiah was kept faithful to the Words which tasted like joy and his heart's delight." He had consumed them and tasted that the LORD loved him and his people dearly.

The Psalm writer sings: "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Psalm 119:103). We, who have acquired a taste for the bitter truth of the law, now hunger for sweet solid food: the name of Jesus tastes good. The Lord who insists we consume the bitterness of the Law loves to wash it down with the Honey of his Son Jesus.

Consume that Word. As Peter encouraged the Church: "like newborns, crave spiritual milk" (1 Peter 2:2). The balanced diet of the Lord's word reveals a God of love. He sets a table in the presence of our foes (Psalm 23). That table's first course was the words of our Baptisms. That table is filled with Jesus. That table is filled with spiritual truths and songs that carry Jesus from the eternal heart of God to our hearts. A regular table is spread when, invited by his grace, we partake of the meal of his very body and blood together with bread and wine. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in each believer's ear, when Jesus, through his servants, announces the grace of God which has purchased us from the grasp of the cruel!

Course after course the Lord reveals his love. He increases our acquired taste for bitter truth. He produces resilience to the ways of the wicked. He pours out the sweet honey combs of Jesus. Consume that Word.

  • Feast on a saving Lord whose mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23)
  • Dine on the Jesus who was tempted for you and resisted perfectly. (Matthew 4; Hebrew 4:15)
  • Dine on the Holy Spirit who holds in your hand the shield of faith by which you can extinguish the arrows of Satan. (Ephesians 6:16)
  • Taste and see that our Heavenly Father pours out the storehouse of blessing so full that we have no room in our homes to store them! (Malachi 3:10)
  • Savor the Almighty Lord who unleashes holy angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91)
  • Feast on a Savior-God who binds up the broken hearted, releases spiritual prisoners from guilt (Isaiah 61: 1), and by his resurrection from the grave opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers (Te Deum).
  • Be fed by the Lord who gives strength to bear your crossed wherever they may appear and however it may take shape for your own good. (Romans 8:28)
  • Consume the safety of a Shepherd who tends you like his own and holds you close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11.)

Today we are encouraged to learn what Jeremiah learned: the Word of the Lord tastes like joy and is our heart's delight. Consume that Word! Taste how much God knows you! Taste how deeply he loves you in Jesus! Amen.

Christ Gave Some to Be Teachers

Ephesians 4: 11-16

(Installation of New Teachers - Sept. 11, 2011)

"Christ Gave Some to Be Teachers"

 

Leading up to this lesson from God's Word, Paul writes these words: "As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." What a task! What a noble motto!

God has equipped us for such a task. Paul reminds us that Christ, who died, who rose, who ascended into heaven has provided gifts for his people: hope, faith, baptism, grace, and gifts of various servants in the whole body of Christ. He explains that Christ has provided unique gifts among his body of believers: apostles and prophets; evangelists; pastors and teachers. These specialists, trained and called by Christ through his Church, have distinct purpose: to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up."

God has given those same gifts to Crown of Life Lutheran Church and School. At the beginning of this new school year, and upon installation, we especially give thanks for the gifts of Melissa Naumann and Eric Troge. They are two new gifts in the area of Christian Education who will work together with their fellow servants on staff, their pastor, and with you the body of Christ at Crown of Life. Together we will all be servants of Christ in common mission of teaching his Gospel. As the teaching and learning of the Gospel continues, we will all be built up in this unity of the Spirit as the body of Christ matures.

They are Servants of Christ who Teach his Gospel

He gave some to be teachers. Our staff members have been trained, they have gained experience, and they have been called by you to be here. They are willing and able. They are servants of Christ who will teach his Gospel. Their purpose fits the mission which stands in our school hallway: Crown of Life School exists to educate and equip children for lives of Christian service and for eternity.

They have already begun their work. Classrooms have been prepared. Lesson plans have been laid out. School has already been in session. Early mornings have begun with devotion and prayer in Christ. Classrooms have been filled with students. Parents have been assisted with goals and guidelines. Schedules have been carefully thought out to include a healthy diet of Bible Instruction, academic learning, music and artistic cultures, physical exercise and athletics. All of these areas will be taught, explained, and carried out under the Lamp of God's Word and in the Light of Jesus.

It will not all be rosy and fun. The devil will always sneak his way into the kingdom of Jesus. Teachers and students will constantly have to battle against their own sinful inclinations. The constant flow of distractions from this fast paced society will lure us all away from our focus. Called workers grow tired and seek for short cuts. They too, are prone to bad days, bad moods, and undesirable choices. Parents, by now, have sensed the weariness in keeping up the pace of being the responsible ones in the home. Students have already fallen prey to the devil's schemes of directing their attention on things that are shameful and wrong.

So teachers teach. They understand the need for repentance. They understand the need to lead others to repent with honest and open hearts. They understand the careful balances of using God's word for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). They will patiently help the group as a whole to confess their sins and to ask their Savior for forgiveness.

Christ is pleased with such an education. He is pleased because he loves to open his arms and forgive his children. He gave the greatest gift to his Church when he gave the gift of his perfect life as a sacrifice on the cross. He gave the Gospel by being the Gospel. Jesus became a servant on their behalf. His messages are filled with love for all his children. Each day begins and ends with the knowledge that Christ loves them and cleansed them from their sins of days gone by. Christian teachers cherish the moments when they will share that forgiveness with parents, students, and each other. Servants of Christ joy in the fact that the news of Jesus permeates the whole day: personal study, Bible Stories and Catechism time, math, science, physical education, recess, lunch, moments of discipline, and athletics. Christ will be modeled and mentored, taught and shared, as we make the most of every opportunity.

They Build up Others for Works of Service

There is urgency in Paul's lesson for all of us. The Gospel educates and equips us all for lives of Christian service and for eternity. Christian education begins with our baptism, continues through our elementary years, through our high school and college years, through our adult lives on to our death beds and into life in heaven. It is the most valuable thing you can learn for benefit in this life. It is the only things that you will learn in the life for benefit in the next.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote: "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith â--They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, and not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13: 7, 17).

During the installation ceremony the teachers will be asked to be faithful; faithful to the true teachings of Christ, and faithful to their calling. The congregation will also be encouraged: to welcome and love these servants of Christ as they are gifts from Christ to us. Students will be directed to show them honor, love and respect for the same reason. The goal of teaching the Words of Jesus is to prepare God's people for works of service. The body of Christ begins its work by thanking the Lord Jesus for his Word and for the gifts of those who have come to teach us. The body of Christ continues that work by show love and respect to those who teach God's Word. Let their work by a joy among us and not a burden.

Paul warns about "the cunning and craftiness of deceitful scheming" As our physical bodies mature, they witness growing pains, and needs for repair. That is also true in the spiritual body of Christ. As it matures, the ligaments get worn and tattered. Opinions and personalities clash. The wind and waves of false teachings find voices to mix with his true word. Worldly values smash against the Church and our personal lives. Sin leaves bruises. Throughout all of that, parts of the body become weary in doing their part, or even harmful to other parts of the body with their words and actions.

The ascended Christ loves this hurting, struggling, breathing, maturing, undying, beautiful Christian Church. He purchased it for his own, with his own blood. He presents us as his bride to his church, without stain or wrinkle. His sacrificial gifts keep it maturing through growing pains and toward the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.

The peace of the Gospel gives us reason "to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace

We have been blessed at Crown of Life with a constant maturing process. Jesus has allowed us to face struggles. Jesus has gifted us with a steady flow of new families. Jesus granted healing and forgiveness after times of hurt. The Holy Spirit has graciously poured out gifts to the whole through each other. Now the work continues and the body matures.

The body of Christ is at its best when every part is working together for Holy hole. Some are pastors and teachers. All are God's people being gifted for works of service. It requires volunteerism. It requires earthly costs. It asks for priorities that are Christ-centered. It has hearts for the lost. It benefits from knowledge and skills of many kinds of trades and interests. No task is too big or small. No gift is superior or inferior. "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ has apportioned it."

All are a part of one Lord, one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Christ, who died for you, who rose for you, is ascended to the place of all authority and strength. He has washed your sins and made them white as snow. He has planted the seed of trust in your hearts. He has given you his written word for your learning. He has supplied you with a fellowship of believers, filled with works of service. He has given you servants who are trained and called to teach this Word.

Speaking the truth in love and we will grow up into him who is the head, Christ Jesus; from him the whole body joined together grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work." That is noble task! That is the blessed unity for which we strive. As Christ makes us blessings to each other, educates and equips us for lives of Christian service, and thankfully one day for lives of joy in eternity with him! Amen.

Why Are You Here?

1 Kings 19: 3 – 8 (Pentecost 12)

“Why Are You Here?”

The prophets of Baal had been defeated. The glorious showering of fire on Elijah’s mud-soaked altar proved once and for all that The Lord of Israel was the only true God. The silence and absence of Baal humiliated the wicked unbelief of heathen people. The Israelite men and women who had fallen into those promiscuous trappings of Baal were embarrassed and proven wrong. What more could Elijah have possibly wanted?

News of Mount Carmel spread quickly back to the ears of Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked king and queen of Judah. They prospered under the evil times formed by idolatry. They wallowed in evil. They cared nothing for Elijah’s God or message. The news about Mount Carmel stirred up only more hatred in them for God’s messenger, Elijah. Jezebel publicly thirsted for his blood: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” She was speaking about the prophets of Baal that Elijah had killed with the sword in the Kishon Valley. She declared publicly a vow to return the favor.

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1. The Lord Has Placed Value on Your Life.

So Elijah ran away in fear. “I have had enough, Lord! Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Elijah measured up his life. He put his own human slant on the value of his ministry and life. He took account of the fact that many were still lost. He felt like a failure. Even after the triumph of Mount Carmel, the enemies of God pursued. After all the confidence and boldness, after all the slaughter of false prophets, Jezebel was still unmoved in her wicked heart. She was cold hearted enough to make vows in the name of gods that did not exist to kill the prophet of the one true God. Elijah was furious; sad; depressed; confused; afraid; and even suicidal. “I have had enough, Lord!” He went away to a broom tree to wallow in his own self pity. The Lord asked: “Why are you here, Elijah?”

We have all gone to that same broom tree many times. We have said it; thought it; wished it … those self-inflicting wounds: I have had enough Lord. I am at the breaking point, Lord. I deserve more. I have the right to give up. The pressure is killing me. I am worthless. My life has no value. Parenting remains a vicious cycle of not getting through. Feelings for family members, even among spouses, diminish to a dead calm. The strength to stir our bodies and minds in the morning becomes a chore. Everyone is against me. What have I done to deserve this? What good am I? I have had enough Lord! What value is there of my existence when I all I see and know is dead end roads!? When we measure our lives by our sinful selfishness, we measure wrong. Notice the sinful and selfish assessment when the focus is on me alone. Notice how wrong, and how disappointed, we are when we measure the value of our lives from human and worldly perspectives.

God has placed a different value to your life. He values your life by things you and I cannot see or measure. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). God has the big picture in view. God sees the eternal good which will rise up from our troubling circumstances. God knows the plans he has for us and that they were designed in heaven according to his gracious purposes. He also knows all the abilities you have, because he is the one who has given them to you. He knows where your limits lie. He knows when your life has made an impression on others. He knows how the crosses you bear will strengthen your faith and character. He knows how they will end and bear fruit for the kingdom.

More importantly God values your life according to his grace. He values your life so much that he gave his Son’s life to redeem it from sin. Your life is valuable to God in terms of the priceless blood which his Son poured out to atone for sin. That is a priceless value on your life. He says you are more valuable than many sparrows. He counts the hairs on your head. He knows when you get up and when you fall asleep. He formed you in your mother’s womb. He values your very life. He was the one who gave it at creation, purchased it on the cross and made it holy in Baptism. He says to you and all “Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death is the measure of the value God has placed over you. In carrying that value for you he makes your life valuable to others.

2. The Lord’s Kingdom Gives Your Life Purpose.

God’s message for Elijah was not a shallow pep rally, empty of promises and providence. In the next section of this lesson, the Lord provided food and drink for Elijah. He strengthened him physically for a further journey. The Lord knew that there was more work to do and that his kingdom was not as dead as Elijah thought. In a very vibrant illustration the Lord reminds Elijah that the kingdom of faith is not about the pomp and circumstance of Mount Carmel. It is not about the flash of earthquakes and firestorms. It is a gentle whisper, not measured by mankind. In fact, the LORD knew the very count of his people at the time Elijah thought he was the only one left: 7,000.

So the Lord strengthened Elijah and sent him on his way. There was work to be done. God knew the purposes he still had for Elijah, purposes which would serve the kingdom, not Elijah. In fact Elijah was given his marching orders directly. He was to kill more evil people and anoint new leaders for the church – leaders who would be faithful with the messages of God. His sins were forgiven, his heart was cleansed, he was equipped and encouraged to do what God was commanding him to do. The Lord gave Elijah motive and cause for getting away from the broom tree of despair and run to the fruitful vine of Christ where there was much good work to do. The forgiveness of sin and the existence of the kingdom gave renewed purpose to Elijah.

Our reasons for discouragement in kingdom work tend to lead to despair. Are we consumed by the Jezebels of the world who seem to never get it even when they’ve been proven wrong? Or do rejoice with the seven thousand who quietly and humbly have not bowed down to another god? We tend to be blinded from the positive when we choose to constantly focus on the negative.         We bounce between God’s measuring line and the yard stick of the world. The world’s yard stick asks questions like: Does it feel good? Will it keep us from looking bad? Does it appeal to the masses? Will no one be offended? Is it politically correct? What do the people want? What does this have to do with me? Did it generate visible and tangible success or failure?

           God’s measuring line is strikingly different: What conscious efforts and decisions will bring glory to The God of salvation? What goals lead to strengthening of the faith in the unseen hearts of God’s people? What opportunities teach and honor the truth of God’s Word? What purposeful things are we doing to position the people of God to lead other souls to Christ and heaven and away from Satan and hell?

           God measures his kingdom for us. He has made it simple for us. He has given us one sure way to further his kingdom. He has given us one body and one Spirit, called us to one hope – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one word, one Savior one God and Father of all. (Ephesians 4: 4-6). The Lord measures his kingdom of faith by peering into the hearts of all. He knows the measure of his kingdom. He sees his word at work and glad to see its progress even when we cannot. He has valued your life with his own, and has made your life valuable to others. Bought by his Christ’s blood, strengthened by his Word, we rejoice in what we cannot see. We live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). When each day is done, we have confidence in knowing that Lord, not us has measured who we are and give us peace, grace and strength for another day in his kingdom.

Do not look to far from your own homes and lives. God did not give Elijah a new and exciting job. He sent him right back to his calling. The Lord has already placed purpose into you very laps: the sacrifices you make for your family; the prayers you offer up for the gospel and its cause, students and teachers who have returned to classrooms and athletic fields, parent who tend infant needs, leaders who have been entrusted with responsibilities; think of the body of Christ as you do the things you do every day.

What are you doing here? If you find yourself in another moment under the broom tree of despair, know that Christ has sanctified you with his blood and sent his holy angels to keep you from all harm. If you are motivated to seek appropriate response to his grace, know that his kingdom has purposes for you. He will cleanse your guilt, remove your fears, and equip you with tools to serve those purposes. Rejoice that the Lord’s value on your life is the priceless sacrifice of his Son. Know that your labor in the Lord’s kingdom grants automatic purpose and that your labor in the risen Jesus is never in vain. Amen.

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Hunger for the True Meal: Jesus

Matthew 14: 13 -21 (Pentecost 11, 2011)

“Hunger For the True Meal: Jesus”

Book Two of the Psalms begin with this song: “As the deer pants for streams of living water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go to meet with God?” (Psalm 42: 1-2). Jesus had just come from the sad news that his cousin John was beheaded by Herod. Jesus had been spending busy days teaching in and around his new home town of Capernaum. Needing time to pray and reflect on the death of his family member, Jesus withdrew from all of that to reach a solitary place.

Pause on that thought! See the human nature in our Savior. As the Son of Man he experienced the sting of death, the injustice of persecution, and the grief of seeing a blood relative experience both in one act of wickedness. The cross was certainly felt in many ways by our Redeemer! According to his human nature he hungered for his Father”s love! He thirsted for time and place to meditate and pray. He deeply needed to overcome sorrow with the sweet taste of meaningful promises that would alone comfort his troubled heart.

See the perfect divinity in our Savior God, too. In obedience to his Father he finds strength in the Word, in the fellowship of believers, in the tranquility of being united to his Heavenly Father, and in the purpose for which his Father sent him. Without wallowing in sinful selfishness, Jesus draws out the reality of human grief, while finding resolve in the certain hope for comfort and courage.

From that lesson begins the story that Matthew shares next. Following a busy day, an evening and morning of sad news, a brief moment of personal preparation, comes still another day of ministry. It takes only a morning’s walk for the people of Capernaum and neighboring villages to find him again. He preaches. He teaches. He leads. He answers questions. He attends to their needs, human and spiritual. The day goes by. No word of “I’m tired; I have just received bad news; can’t you come back tomorrow? It has been a long day?” See the resolve in our Savior to fill their needs with full conviction. He fills his day with selfless actions of love, and a dedicated heart for teaching the words of his Father to needy souls. Jesus has time for you!

Do you also notice, indirectly, the resolve of the crowds? The disciples were the ones who felt compelled to say: “This is a remote place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Jesus did not compel them to leave. The people did not bring up the lateness of the hour, or their human hunger, or even a thought that there was something more pressing for them to do. Do you see their thirsting, as the deer pants for streams of water, they hungered for the real food which they lacked: they hungered for Jesus! These people were certainly able to decide when and where they wanted supper, when it was too late for them to start for home, and when they had their fill of instruction. No one locked them up against their will. It was the words of Jesus which captivated their hearts and quenched their thirsting souls.

Today our surroundings offer us a sloppy plate of spiritual junk food. Days before, Jesus had warned the people of persecution that comes because of the word, the worries of this life and deceitfulness of wealth (Parable of the Sower). Our natural desire is for those things that will give us quick happiness and easy resolutions. In sinful disaster we find a dangerous path that leads us to an unhealthy interest for more of the same. We want only to be happy, and lose sight of what it means to be joyful. We trade Spiritual rest for spiritual laziness. It is then we make the worst decisions about what to feed our souls: drinking on reading material that is shallow at best, poisonous at its worst; running after things that satisfy the human nature and not the soul; failing to heed Isaiah’s warning “why spend money on what is not bread?”

Rejoice that the Lord intervenes! We need to see our hunger and he knows it. The cross appears. A troubling report about tragedy reveals that we need more than shallow happiness. News about an untimely death awakens grief. Financial struggles reveal our dependence on the providence of God. The sharp hunger pangs of persecution remind us that we are not as prepared to give answer to our faith as we thought. God plants in us all a hunger for something more satisfying than the slop by which the world enticed us.

Jesus reveals himself as the Living Bread that we truly need. See in him one who knows and cares about sad news and long days at work. See in him a Savior who knew just as much about physical hunger as he did spiritual hunger. See in him a perfect balance of priorities. See a Savior who is glad about a solitary place for prayer, as much as he is eager to return to doing his Father’s work. See in Jesus the one who says: “Come to me!” See in Jesus the one who says “They do not need to go away! You give them something to eat.”

Jesus is the one who came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many. Jesus is the one who thwarts the schemes of the Evil One. Jesus is the Living Water, and Living Bread. He is the satisfaction of God’s justice. He gives pardon from guilt. He restores souls. He comforts when the cross becomes heavy to bear. His resurrection removes the sting of death. His Word prepares us to meet those who spite our message. He replaces fading happiness with lasting joyful in troubling days. He gives courage in times of struggle.

Hunger for Jesus. Together with those crowds of northern Galilee, we will hunger for the meal that lasts. Together with Psalm writers, our souls thirst for the living God, as the deer pants for streams of water. Trust the truth of our Savior, who in the face of temptation, said: “A man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from my Father’s mouth (Matthew 4: 4).

Those gathered families in that remote place certainly ate their fill of bread and fish that day. They witnessed the divine power of the Son of God. Their stomachs were miraculously fed by his providing hands. The one who forgives sins also provides daily bread. Their minds and bodies were rested because of time spent with Jesus. Their starving souls were nourished by the meat of his satisfying words. Their troubled hearts were stilled with his forgiving voice. They learned that the busy fishing village of Capernaum got along just fine without them for a day. Their fields, stores, and fishing nets could spare a day without attention. Their homes and neighborhoods were there when they got back. The duties of home and business didn’t rot away or fall apart without them.

It is true for us. The people who are charged with ministry and the Word will take joy in time for spiritual growth and renewal. They will do well to learn that the Church won’t fall apart while they block off time for spiritual feeding. Fathers and mothers will be comforted to know that many things can wait until after we are fed with the much needed bread of Jesus” messages of love. Church and home and business and community will be even better served by those who take time with Jesus, look for a solitary place, and eat from the Bread of Spiritual Life. Hunger for Jesus!

In those moments with him we pray about troubling news. From him we gain perspective on the real events of our daily life. From him we are given strength to battle temptation, faith to trust for daily needs, and joy even in times of struggle. By him we are given grace from a Father who created and sustains us. In his blood and righteousness, given through the cross, we are sustained with the forgiveness of our sins, and the promise eternal rest from our labors at the heavenly banquet of God’s grace.

“As the deer pants for streams of living water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go to meet with God?” The LORD invites us today “you who have no money -- come, buy wine and milk without cost -- and your soul will delight in the richest of fair” (Isaiah 55:1-2). For spiritual food is freely given by Christ. He paid for you to have it as his daily gift of his grace! Amen.

The Day is Coming!

Joel 3: 13-16 (Pentecost 9)

The Day is Coming!

He has given us the signs:

Many will come in my name and deceive many ... You will hear of wars and rumors of war ... There will be famines and earthquakes ... You will be persecuted and put to death ... Many will turn away from the faith and betray each other ... Many false prophets will appear ... Because of increased wickedness the love of most will grow cold ... And the gospel will be preached in the whole world. (Matthew 24: 4-14).

The Gospel of Christ Is Recklessly Sown

Matthew 13: 1-9; 18 – 23 (Pentecost 8 - 2011)

“The Gospel of Christ Is Recklessly Sown”

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           The Lord said through Isaiah: “As the rain and snow come down from heaven … so is my word that goes out from my mouth.” (Isaiah 55: 10-11). At one point God’s kingdom consisted of one man and one woman cast from paradise. They were left to contemplate their sin and reflect on a gracious God who did not squelch them under his wrath. At one point the kingdom of God lived in the hearts of eight people on a mass of floating wood with countless bodies drowning beneath them. For generations the kingdom of God was a traveling assembly of complainers worshiping in a retractable tent made out of animal skins. The sights and sounds of their tent meetings included killing and burning perfectly healthy animals. While the Lord “reserved his seven thousand” Elijah, in his own self pity, had blinded himself to God’s grace. He was too busy looking for the glory and could not bear the cross.

           Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a man sowing seed. In Jesus’ day a sower would take a sack of seed, reach his hand in and fling the seed to the ground. He did not have careful rows marked with sticks and seed packages. He did not have machines with timers and gages putting out the right amount into the right place. The seed fell where it was recklessly thrown.

           But everywhere the seed went it did something. Who of us has not experienced all of the scenarios our Savior tells of in the story? We have shared the gospel with others and seen many different results. We all stood in each category in various times of our lives: rocky, thorny soil, rock hard path clay, and toiled earth. At the heart our natural condition is a sinful flesh that sees it demise at the Word of God. It constantly kicks and screams against and the planting Words of the Holy Spirit.

“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches it away.” Our human hearts have difficulty with the deep things of God. “I believe that I cannot by own reason or strength …” Only by the grace of the Holy Spirit can we believe what we don’t understand. The Devil loves to twist our sinful hearts and say “Why wrestle with what you can’t agree with?” Discarding key teachings of the Bible has become a favorite game of his and sadly a favorite game in our society. When is the last time you had a troubling conversation about simple truths which others reject? The devil loves to snatch those seeds away. But if we don’t throw the true seed, what are we really planting?

“When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away ... the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” It is easy to clam up with Peter and not say anything at all. It is easy to get on a boat with Jonah and go the opposite way. It is easy to bury our talent in the ground rather than plant the seed of the gospel. It is easy to find comfort in honing the skills of our sinful flesh rather than honing our skills in the unsearchable riches of Christ. It becomes sinfully natural when the events of our lives got in the way of your relationship with God; when we feel the worries of this world gripping at our throats of faith?

It should not surprise us when we meet these same attitudes among others, especially among those who have not yet learned of their Savior from sin…

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“But the one who received the seed that fell on the good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Rejoice! The gospel does take root! The Holy Spirit is still doing his job, and doing it well. The Word of his mouth will not return to him empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55: 11). The blood of Christ does wash away sin. Baptism does save us and bring us to faith. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives us an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3). Our Savior does continue to help us fight the Old Adam. He continues to produce fruits of repentance and faith when and where he pleases. By grace he was pleased to plant that seed in your heart and have it take root.

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What does evangelism mean? It means to proclaim the good news of salvation. Jesus died to save the entire world. Jesus lives to give life to all who believe and call on his name. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them and has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.” ( 2 Corinthians 5: 19). “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16). And so he sends us out. “As the rain and the snow fall from heaven … so is the word that goes out from my mouth.” God already saved the world in Christ. Our job is not to save the world, but to tell the worlds that they are saved in Christ. It is like a man sowing good seed.

The seed is always good. It always does what it is supposed to do. The seed germinates. The seed affects the soil. In the same way, the Word of God is always good. It always works. It always does something. The human heart is compelled to react. When Nathan told David, “You are the man.” David was convicted of his dreadful sins. When Jesus said to the lame man, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” he was forgiven. God will gladly cast his seed everywhere. When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the Word did what it was supposed to do. When the man from Ethiopia was brought to faith the seed that Philip threw took root.

What a reckless plan! What a generous farmer! What a gracious God! What a mysterious kingdom! God reaches into his bag and flings the gospel. It lands on an unbeliever driving to work as a Christmas carol comes over the radio. It lands on your conversation at the water cooler as you are given an opportunity to speak the truth in love. It lands on an atheist every time he is forced to rebel against the lingering Christian elements of our government. It lands on the heart of an unsuspecting soul driving past a church sign. It gets placed on top of a dresser for months by a little boy who made a Bible craft at VBS. It gets sung by a young girl in the sand box weeks after VBS is over. It unexpectedly lands on her un-churched parents. It accompanies you where ever you go, in the conversations of your life.

So God sends out his word. So God sends us out. “Preach the word, in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:3). When one of my sons was much younger, he saved a watermelon seed one summer. He wanted to plant it and grow a water melon patch. It reminded me of my childhood. I tried growing an apple tree in the alley with an apple seed I saved from lunch time. The child-like faith thinks so simply. A seed in the ground is supposed to grow. The child doesn’t think about the result, or the fruit. He just believes the fact that a seed does what a seed is supposed to do. “The kingdom of heaven is like a man sowing seed.” Sow that seed, my friends! Let God do the rest. Trust God to do the rest. Let him accomplish the purpose for which he sends it. That is a reckless plan, but a very generous promise. What is sown in Christ, his enduring word, a word that holds the power to penetrate each human heart, that word will produce a crop, much more than what was sown.

           Preach you the word and plant it home

To those who like and like it not

The Word that shall endure and stand

When flow’rs and mortals are forgot (CW 544: 1) Amen.